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Morris Hatton is pictured earlier this year while receiving an award on behalf of his father’s contribution to the community at the annual Junaluska Jubilee.

Photo by Sherrie Norris | watauga democrat



Originally published: 2013-12-14 16:16:13
Last modified: 2013-12-14 16:16:13

Morris Hatton

by Sherrie Norris

For more than two decades, local minister and gifted musician Morris Hatton has played a significant role in the annual Christmas Eve program at Brookside Presbyterian Church in Boone.

This year will be no exception as Hatton's 21st appearance lends itself to meaningful traditions that stand the test of time.

"Pastor Larry Young and I met when he first came to Boone," Hatton said. "He invited me to take part in his church's Christmas Eve program that year and we've been doing it ever since."

The upcoming 21st annual Service of Adoration, Communion, & Candlelight will be held at the church at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec 24. In addition to Hatton's performance of traditional Christmas music, Young will lead the congregation in a nativity service of lessons and carols, which he said was inspired by and patterned after the famous service of "Lessons & Carols" held each Christmas Eve at the King's College Chapel at Cambridge University, Cambridge, England.

"We are delighted that Morris will be with us once again and we invite the community to join us," Young said. "I first met Morris when I came to Boone in Sept of 1993.  I requested that he come to the first annual Christmas Eve service I was having at Brookside. He has been on the program every year since."

It's a standing agreement between the church and Hatton "that's just understood," Young said.
In recently asking his church members what the service means to them, Young said, the responses were all positive. "To one, it means fellowship," he said. "Another told me that Hatton brings joy and praise to the service. Another said he has so much energy and the Lord just fills him full with praise, and he gets everybody uplifted  -- and fired up."

Still others, Young said, related how Hatton "livens things up and puts a little bounce into it," and contributes "joyful, spirit-filled worship."

"As you can see," Young said, "Morris is what people think of when they think of Brookside's annual Christmas Eve service." 

Calling the service the highlight of the year at Brookside, it is further enhanced with scripture readings about the birth of Christ and congregate singing of Christmas carols.

"We also celebrate the Lord's Supper and conclude with a candle-lighting which demonstrates how, if each of us lifts our light (candle) high, what a difference it will make in the coming year."

"It is such a blessing to be able to come back, year after year and to know it's a part of my own Christmas tradition," said Hatton. Brookside Presbyterian Church, Associate Reformed Presbyterian is located at 1122 Old 421 South in Boone.

For more information, call (828) 262-5020 or visit  http://www.boonebrooksidechurch.org.


More About Hatton
Morris Hatton has been playing the piano and singing for more than half a century and has led worship and music throughout the High Country and beyond throughout most of his adult life.
Not only is he helping to continue a community church custom, but Hatton also carries on a time-honored family tradition of singing and preaching the gospel, year-round.

For more than 40 years, his father, the Rev. "Rock" Hatton ministered in these mountains; the legacy he left behind is never far from his son's mind.

"Daddy influenced so many people," he said. "A lot of people really loved him. He helped break down barriers of race and religion."

Hatton often drove his father to churches to preach; he, the younger one, led the singing. "One time we were pulling into a church parking lot where all whites went and Daddy says, 'Junior, you better back in here. These people ain't seen folks like us before and we might have to leave here in a hurry.' But by the time we were ready to leave, they was huggin' and lovin' all over us."

When people heard that Rock Hatton was preaching, his son said, many people started out walking "real early to make sure they didn't miss him."

Hatton remembers "the days before we integrated," he said. "Some of the blacks from Bethel were brought across the county to our little three-room school house on the hill. They had to pass two or three schools on the way to get here, but it's where they had to come for their education."

Blacks were not treated with utmost respect "back in the day," Hatton said. "But, because of the admiration my father had earned among the community, it wasn't too difficult for me, growing up."

Morris Hatton was born in Boone at the Hagaman Clinic, "one of the first that Dr. Hagaman had at his house," he said. "The last of three children and the least expected."

"Daddy was in his 60s and my mother (Nealie Grimes Hatton) was in her 40s when I came along," he said. "You can imagine the Abraham and Sarah stories they had to endure. My youngest sister was 20 when I arrived."

The family lived in the Junaluska community, the same that Morris has called home for most of his life. He attended the  "Old Watauga Consolidated School," he said, near his home and later moved to the "new school" farther up the road. "We were integrated in 1964, and I finished High School at Appalachian High -- an interesting experience," he said.

When he was 9 his mother insisted that he begin piano lessons with Ester Boone, "in the bottom of the old Methodist Church," he said. "It was real exciting at first, but then, I realized I'd have to practice piano instead of playing ball. I wasn't too happy about that, but my mama made me stick with it. I'm glad she did."

At Appalachian High, he was one of few who could read music; his contribution to the band and chorus was impactful and he was one of the first students in the choral ensemble directed by Gene Wilson.

"It wasn't as hard for me as it could've been," he said. "Daddy had been in a lot of churches around the county and I had been with him. People knew who I was. I had that going for me."

On a band trip, however, a white boy described him in a derogatory manner. "I did not hear him say the n-word, but some of the other white boys did," he said. "They took care of him and settled the problem real quick."

In high school, Hatton was nominated for the NC Governor's School of Arts in vocal music. After graduation, he entered Tabor College, a private Mennonite school in Hillsboro, Kansas. He majored in vocal music and was involved in all the music groups there and formed his own jazz band.

After two years, he returned to Boone and started another three-piece jazz ensemble, "worked the local clubs," he said, and in the meantime, married his childhood sweetheart, Alma Greer.

Soon, he recommitted his life to the Lord, was ordained into the ministry and returned to school --in a Fresno, Ca. seminary.

The couple moved west with two young children, ages 6 weeks and 1 year. "The only person we knew there was a conference evangelist," he said.

A year later, they returned to Boone. Hatton pastored a local church for five years before returning to school in California for three more. "Then, we began to travel and sing. I recorded my first album, 'Something Beautiful,'" Hatton said.

His ministry led him to pastor a Mennonite Church in Florida for six years before returning to Boone where his music "just took off," he said. He has since continued to preach, pastor several churches in the region, lead Bible studies, record more music and make special appearances.

Hatton's style is unique, describing it in an earlier interview as "blight," neither traditional black nor all white. "It's just a good mix," he said, "not a peg you can put into a hole, but rather, something that stands on its own and easily understood. I want people to know what they've heard. Then, they can deal with it as they need to."

The life-threatening illness of his wife, Alma, several years ago "put everything in perspective," he said, and changed their outlook on life, "immensely."

Alma's illness forced her to quit work and took a huge financial toll on the family; Hatton began working three jobs at the time and continues to work extra hours to supplement a limited income.

Faith and family, including their children and grandchildren, are what matters most, he said.

Hatton currently leads High Country Bible Fellowship on Thursday evenings at the Watauga Youth Network Community Center and every other Sunday, at the same location, a Sunday morning church service at 10 a.m.

"On the opposite Sundays, we are in a home-church setting in Lenoir."

To schedule Hatton for your special occasion, call (828) 264-4677.